Haiti protests: Ariel Henry’s fuel price hike triggers violence

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Edris Fortuné can’t work without his motorcycle. The photographer and political activist fears that a government plan to raise fuel prices will make everything more expensive, while preventing him from earning a living.

Fortuné therefore joined the thousands of people who took to the streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities this week to demonstrate against rising prices and the interim government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. People set fire to and looted businesses and government offices and gunfire rang out across the capital. Foreign embassies have suspended their operations and stores closed.

It’s another round of unrest in a country plagued by worsening hunger, record inflation, spiraling gang violence and political instability compounded by the brazen and still unsolved assassination of the president. Jovenel Moïse last year.

The investigation into the Haiti assassination has stalled. That of the United States is moving forward.

“Ariel Henry has no sympathy for the Haitian people,” Fortuné, 42, told The Washington Post. “The increase in the price of gasoline is a provocation. This is further proof of his arrogance. The misery in the country will get worse.

Protests have spread across this Caribbean nation, from the beleaguered capital to the usually quiet towns of Gonaïves in the north and Jérémie in the southwest.

The World Food Program said on Friday that looters stormed a warehouse in Gonaïves and left with enough food to feed 100,000 school children until the end of the year. Haitian police said they would temporarily suspend firearms licenses already issued.

“The government is increasing the price of fuel, the street is spitting its anger,” castigated the newspaper Le Nouvelliste.

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Henry said this week that the government could no longer afford to subsidize petrol, diesel and kerosene. He said “the state must collect more taxes to be able to meet the needs of the less privileged.”

“Do you find it normal that the state wants to launch social programs and can only collect 3 billion gourdes while we spend more than 50 billion gourdes to subsidize fuel for people who can pay the normal price? he asked in a national address on Sunday. “We will have to adjust fuel prices.”

According to Henry’s plan, the cost of a gallon of gas would be more than double from $2.10 to $4.79. A gallon of diesel would go from $2.97 to $5.63 and kerosene from $2.96 to $5.59.

The government said prices were “significantly lower than the international market”.

Critics accuse Henry of slow progress towards new elections to replace Moïse so he can stay in power. He fired back.

“If it weren’t for the dilatory behavior of some people, the terrorizing gangs and the difficulties in equipping the Haitian National Police with the necessary equipment to act effectively and establish peace,” he said, “we would have already launched the consultations to… take the necessary measures to launch the electoral process.

Few Haitians believe him. As gangs have increased their grip on the Haitian capital over the past year, they say, Henry has been largely silent.

Dozens of Haitians, including entire families, have been killed in violent clashes between warring gangs in recent months. Thousands more have been displaced. Civilians were trapped in their homes without access to food or water.

Ralph Chevry, a board member of the Haitian Center for Socio-Economic Policy in Port-au-Prince, called the fuel announcement “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” He said the protests reflected broader discontent with Henry and a desire for political change.

“It’s a very precarious situation we live in,” he said. “We basically have to fend for ourselves.”

Luis Abinader, the president of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, told the Organization of American States this week that the situation in his neighbor “could be defined as a low-intensity civil war.” .

Chevry said Abinader’s assessment was not “outlandish.”

The situation is “degenerating”, he said. “There is no control.”

Intermittent fuel shortages and chronic breakdowns, due in part to contract disputes and the security crisis, are not uncommon in Haiti. Many people and businesses here depend on fuel for electricity. In previous energy crises, even hospitals closed because their generators ran on diesel.

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Fortuné’s two-bedroom apartment had no electricity when he spoke to the Post on Thursday evening.

“The current situation in this country is creating monsters,” Fortuné said. “What is happening is a consequence of government inaction.”

Marie Stéphane Lundy opened Lundy’s Beauty Study and Barbershop in Jérémie in August 2021. She opposed planned fuel price hikes; she said she would probably have to increase the price of her services to compensate for this. She feared losing customers and having to lay off more than half of her 11 employees.

And she was afraid that her small business would be looted.

“People are desperate,” Lundy said. “They are frustrated. It’s really not good for us.